NL Central Hot Stove Preview
Grabbing that kind of middle-tier free agent was once a Cardinal specialty. Think "broken" pitchers that Dave Duncan could work well with, such as Freddy Garcia, Bartolo Colon or Dontrelle Willis. The middle infield might be trickier, but a player like Juan Uribe could be attractive. The Cardinals can probably avoid spending money on their outfield for the time being, hoping to get better production out of some combination of Edmonds, Chris Duncan, Ankiel, Rasmus and possibly Encarnacion.
There is a secondary question about whether it's revenue-maximizing for the Cardinals to spend additional money. Their fans are extremely loyal, the team won the World Series in 2006, and their stadium is shiny and new. In an ironic way, they have taken over the archetypal role of the Chicago Cubs, in which the fans are so inclined to turn out rain or shine that it reduces the marginal benefit from winning ballgames. If the Cardinals had a little bit more minor league talent, in fact, you could make a case for trading that goodwill in for a rebuilding year. But the farm system is going to take another year or two to get turned around, and failing to add talent now could leave the club with a losing record for the next few seasons, which will begin to erode that patience.
The Astros' central problem is that their most obvious need is for a No. 2 starter, but there are few of those in the free-agent market, and the team does not have any depth from its minor league system to part with in trade. It's really quite tempting to suggest that they blow everything up, trade Oswalt, Lidge and Everett, and see if they can't do a relatively quick rebuild. In any other division, that would be the suggestion, but no division rival is likely to build up this winter to the point where they're fielding a 90-plus-win club, and between dumping Craig Biggio, integrating Hunter Pence and Luke Scott on a full-time basis, and probably getting a better year out of Berkman, the Astros at least ought to have a division-winning offense. So I think they have to gamble and see if they can't sign a pitcher to an Andy Pettitte-type contract.